We all know how important friends are to us. And to our kids. But, let’s be honest, there’s not a single kid (or adult) on the planet who hasn’t had a friendship issue. Having an argument with a friend, getting teased or even trying to find a buddy in a new classroom — these are typical problems that can be very painful for all kids. Which is exactly why we’re sharing some tips — directly for the kiddos — on how to have a great playdate from Princeton psychologist and children’s friendships expert Eileen Kennedy-Moore, and parenting and health writer Christine McLaughlin from their book: Growing Friendships: A Kids’ Guide to Making and Keeping Friends.
How to Plan a Fun and Friendship-Building Playdate
A one-on-one play date is one of the best things you can do to deepen a new or existing friendship. Inviting someone over is a very nice compliment because it says, “I like you, and I’d like to spend more time with you.” It also gives you a chance to focus on just each other. If you’ve been arguing with a friend, having a fun one-on-one play date (without arguing!) can help you remember what you enjoy about each other.
Try to invite someone who likes to do the same things you like to do. You don’t have to be close friends with someone to invite them over.
If you’ve had fun together a time or two at school or during an after-school activity, then you know each other well enough to get together outside school and take your friendship to a deeper level.
Once you decide who you want to invite, the next step is to talk to your grown-ups about when would be some good times to have your friend over. Come up with two dates or times so you can work around your friend’s plans if needed.
If you’re in fourth grade or older, it’s a good idea for you to take the lead in setting up the play date, rather than having a grown-up do it. You’ll need to get permission first, but you should be the one to invite your friend. You can do this in person, by phone, email, or text, depending on what’s comfortable for you and what you’re allowed to do. A phone call is often best because you’ll know your friend received the invitation, and it makes it easy to adjust and agree on plans.
When you invite your friend, say that you were wondering if they could come over and suggest a time. If your friend is busy, suggest the second time. If your friend still can’t do it, say, “Well, maybe another time.” You don’t want to be too pushy. You can try making a play date with that friend in a couple of weeks.
If the first person you invite can’t come over, think of someone else you can invite over.
5 Play Date Tips
Once you’ve scheduled a play date, here are some guidelines to make sure it goes well:
Prepare the scene. If there are toys you’ll have trouble sharing, put them away before your friend arrives. Think of activities your friend might enjoy doing with you at your home. Ask your grown-ups if they’ll prepare a nice snack for you and your friend.
Welcome your friend. When your friend arrives, greet them with a smile and offer two suggestions of things to do. Offering your friend two choices avoids an awkward moment where you both don’t know what to do. (“What do you want to do?” “I don’t know. What do you want to do?”)
Treat your friend well. As the host, it’s your job to make sure your friend has a good time. Stay with your friend, rather than going off by yourself or playing with someone else. Make sure your friend is involved and playing with you, rather than just watching you do something. Try to do what the friend wants to do and avoid arguing. If your friend seems bored or frustrated, suggest another activity or have a snack.
End on a happy note. When it’s time to go, accept the end of the play date calmly. Don’t make a fuss or hide or try to drag things out because that will annoy the adults and might upset your friend, too.
Wait. Continue to be friendly, but wait two or three weeks before you offer another invitation. Give your friend a chance to invite you over to their house. That way, your new friendship is something you’re building together.
With these tips, you’ll be having the best play dates ever in no time! —Eileen Kennedy-Moore and Christine McLaughlin
Excerpted with permission from Growing Friendships: A Kids’ Guide to Making and Keeping Friends, by Eileen Kennedy-Moore, PhD and Christine McLaughlin, Beyond Words/Simon & Schuster, for ages 6-12.